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An Evening with Tori Amos: Women and Music
Thursday, February 24, 2005
at the 92nd St Y in New York, New York
Moderated by Ann Powers
Susan Engel: Hello, good evening. My name is Susan Engel and I have the privilege of being the Director of the Lecture Program here at the 92nd St Y. I want to welcome you tonight to the Ruth and Oliver Stanton "About Women" series. On behalf of the 92nd St Y, I want to thank Ruth and Oliver Stanton for their generous support and for making the 92nd St Y a place where women's issues and achievements are discussed and taken seriously. I also would remind you that the the two remaining events in this series are March 29: Writer Naomi Rosenblatt discusses women in the Bible. Then on April 17th, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appears in conversation with Foreign Affairs editor James Hoge to discuss global politics now. And now for tonight: the moment we've been waiting for. The format is an interview followed by the questions that have already been collected on the (sic: calls?). There are also copies for sale in our adjacent art gallery of Tori Amos's critically-acclaimed memoir "Piece by Piece" as well as her new CD, "Beekeeper."
And now, I'm delighted to introduce our moderator and collaborator with Tori on "Piece by Piece," journalist Ann Powers. May we take this moment to tell you a little bit about Ann. Ann has been writing about popular music and society since the early 1980s. She is the author of "Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America," as well as the (sic: ???) editor of "Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Rap, and Pop." She was the pop critic for the New York Times from 1997 until 2001, and she also was an editor for the Village Voice from 1993 until 1996. She has written for most music publications, and her work has been widely anthologized. She is currently a curator at the Experience Music Project, which is an interactive music museum in Seattle, Washington, where she organizes exhibits on subjects ranging from disco to (sic: ???) to celebrity iconography. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming first-time to the 92nd St Y, Ann Powers.
Ann Powers: Some of you might remember a few years ago, I believe it was in 2002, I did a similar introduction to a similar event Tori and I had conversation, public conversation here in New York and at that time I said that Tori... the one musical star that I sometimes wish I could be. And, frankly, I don't wish that in a weird way now, but she is such an icon of a person and it's been an incredible honor to work with her on this recent project and to discover so much about her artistic work in the process. As you know, she has released eight albums, they have sold a total of over 12 million copies. This is her ninth album, The Beekeeper. She's toured the world many times. She's basically changed the way that we think about women in popular music, I think. She brought the piano back as an instrument of pop in the [sic: middle?] 90s. And she has really created a way that I think she has few peers in, creating a way of the personal with the universal in her music, and of making pop music that's both purely popular and truly art, and that's what I like about her so much. So we've each written this book and we're going to have a little talk, and I'm supposed to remind you that The Beekeeper is out this week, which you all know, and the book is also out, which you all clearly know. So, I'd like to welcome a daughter, a mother, a worker, a creative genius, a really snappy dresser, and a really fun lady, my friend Tori Amos.
Tori Amos: Hi, Ann.
Ann: Hi, Tori. We were hanging out backstage, we started talking. Blah blah blah.
Tori: Hi, everybody. How are you?
Ann: I was thinking, getting ready, just talk and reminiscing about when we started working on this project together, and I remember so vividly the first night I joined you on the road was in Santa Barbara. One thing that became immediately clear to me watching you prepare for your show that evening was how every aspect of your work is a creative act. That sounds kind of corny, but I mean it in a sincere way. Like, you work to structure your set list in a certain way. You are very careful in what you wear and the way that you prepare the environment so the show will be experienced. That really impressed me and I hope that comes across in the book. I wonder how you got that way, how that approach was developed for you over the years. How did you come to see your art as a holistic phenomenon?
Tori: Well, I think the songs would have kicked my butt if I didn't show the respect that they not only deserve, but they command a certain respect from the musician in me.
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: Therefore I am a container full of these beings. Of course, I'm a co-writer with them and I have to prepare myself in a way that's much different. We're just having a chat now. I'm not singing tonight, therefore it's a very different energy. I'm hanging out with my friend Ann and we're just having a little chat. I think that when I am going out to hold over two hours of these beings, I need to prepare myself. If I don't, and there have been a few occasions when I haven't, and my fuse has been completely, well, it can be almost destroyed by it. I think it's, you know very well some musicians who have been, well, aren't around anymore unfortunately because they weren't able to contain the 220 voltage.
Ann: We talk about that in the book. You told me about, I remember meeting a certain musician backstage at some festival or something and he was a dad, we talked about being parents, and he was just a regular guy, and then you witness that transformation. I don't know if you can express this for us, but can you talk about what that feels like? Moving into that space?
Tori: Well, I think it goes back to teachings from my grandfather, my mother's father, who was Eastern Cherokee and the idea that you root yourself to this vortex where you are and you will be able at that point ... oh, that's cute. You're able to connect with the person that has your phone ringer, you are able to be completely present in the moment. Yeah. Yeah. Change the tune.
You must then, be able to deal with all of you. While, you know, you have to breathe and burp and swallow. The mechanics of playing music and singing have to be happening, and at the same time, you have to be having a conversation. There's a discipline of the body that has to be completely almost, you and I talked about it, if you have to think about how the song goes, you're in big, big trouble.
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: You know?
Ann: It's interesting just even playing at this moment right now, you are always in a dialogue with your audience and in a dialogue with the time and place of the creation. I've witnessed this in terms of when you're writing, and also when you're on the road and that was the other thing that really impressed me from the get-go working on this project is you were so aware of the time and place in which it would be received. Just as you're so aware of the time and place in which every concert is received. I wonder if you could talk about that. Like, you don't write topical song necessarily, you're not writing songs where you're like, "George W. Bush, get out of my head." That's not what you're really about. Yet your music connects with the moment, it connects with people very viscerally. Can you talk about that dialogue that goes on between you and the historic knowledge you write.
Tori: You're so smart. I'm gonna push my chair back. See, what I mean? She just makes me think. Okay, could you put it in Tori speak?
Ann: Okay, Dallas. Let's talk about Dallas on the tour.
Ann: Okay, so. You followed me back to Dallas.
Ann: And there, you wrote a set list, and that set list reflected JFK, The Bushes, the weather, all that stuff. Talk about how that happens for you.
Tori: That night if I remember, we were also talking about the Dixie Chicks, the censorship. We were talking about these times now for artists-
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: You think that we have freedom of speech to speak our minds, and yet you have these people that were being threatened and they were punished for speaking. Now, that was intriguing us, if I recall, and I also recall that we needed though a song that would give us, imagine we needed to fertilize and we needed something where we were in order for, if I were going to sing "Landslide". I wanted you to know, "the landslide brought me down," which was for every Dixie Chick, if you're born below the Mason-Dixon, which we talk about in the book, then the landslide was bringing us down. Therefore, I sang "Dixieland" before we went into "Landslide". It in those moments some times, when you are aligned with point of place, in that moment I was in Dallas. Every syllable, all the songs and all the archetypes I work with were also there.
When you become a container, and that means Tori has to go to the back of the bus within the being and I can watch it happening, but again, we were talking about a discipline. A lot of people cannot be present in the moment. You can't shut up. I have to shut up and allow the songs to completely take over. You empty yourself so you can become full again. And therefore, you're able then, all the research that we do, the researchers where in the morning at the coffee shops, you're able to see historically what's occurred in that spot. You know the language, the references that are happening with the people coming to the show that night, the current events, so you're weaving a tale. Every night, I'm an old lady that sits by the fire like an old bard telling the tales of the day, of the old captive bards. Talk about that for a minute. You and I talk about that hasn't changed much.
Ann: No, even in African tradition, I think we use town criers because that's such an important part of the song tradition, whether you go back to the child, the ballads have been collected that tell story upon story, layer upon layer, each of those ballads. A perfect segue into something I wanted to mention that you made me think of just now, which is recently Bob Dylan and his big work Chronicles, which is on the best-seller list next to one of the books I wrote. He says in his that he, a trick he does as a songwriter is he will write the rhyme first before he writes anything else, like any of the content. He'll just come up with two words that rhyme and he'll write a song around it. That's kind of a way of freeing his unconscious mind.
This made me, I wanted to talk about the song canvasses and your method of creating a map for your songs. I was shifting away from the live context and into the studio where you have a very interesting method of composition and notation and it became in the book, Song Canvasses, that's sort of the representation of them in prose. Can you tell this nice audience about the Song Canvasses and about how that happens? What you collect to make a song?
Tori: Well, sometimes I'll get a tune or phrase of music, or just I'll see a smile on a face and that becomes a treasure and I file it in this thing that I guess I can call a song palette. I put them on paper or tapes and so, I guess I have my own cataloging system and I have my own form of writing. I didn't do so well in theory. I did very well in ear training, but I didn't do so well. I had to come up with my own form of writing music so I could understand it. I figure, it doesn't matter if it makes any sense to anybody because I just have to recall it in order to then record it.
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: I'm collecting the song, and for a song like Beekeeper, I've been collecting I ideas for eight years. It's a long time. Many baby elephants... Eventually it came together when I was on a boat. I heard the boat connect with the wave and I was out attached with play and the dolphins came up. It was hitting on a tone: duh, duh, hmm, duh, hmm, hmm, duh, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm. I just heard it and I ran into the house and there was the piano figure. And after eight years I was able to finally ... the story just started to unfold. Once I knew that clue. Every song has a clue. She doesn't let me into her essence without me almost passing tests. I have to be able to get through one part of the shape. There are no obvious doors or windows out of this light filled ... sometimes it's a trap door.
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: In order to get from a verse to a chorus or into a bridge or another passage. That's kind of how it just is.
Ann: That's interesting because you lay the groundwork for that and it takes eight years and then the magical moment happens and that's another thing I've come to love about you is the combination of, yes, to openness, to magic, to sound to kismet. The hard work is at the heart of it. I mean, it is work on some level ... making art. You are a worker as well as an artist. I mean, an artist is a work artist.
Tori: I think that that is a misnomer in contemporary music that, you know, you put on a cute outfit and sing a song and there it is. Well, you might become famous but that doesn't make you a composer. You know, I truly say that without dissing anybody. I think what's essential here is that your creative forces are kind of, mmmm, are of value, and that discipline is ... I know that my father is beaming when I say discipline is key. This is not... I think without it, I would have given up on almost all of the songs except the ones that you know, were just kind of put in my lap. Which are very few and far between.
Ann: I remember Mark telling me a story of one that you just wrote sort of like that at the piano, but very rare-
Ann: Yes, yes. That felt different than the other, I guess it just kind of came.
Tori: Well, it's sort of like possession.
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: It does take over your being. I must say those moments ... nothing is quite like it. Because I truly believe that this creative force that we can't see or touch ... I know this as if I'm looking at each one of you. I know I didn't write that song. It's very kind that I ended up publishing it. I can admit that I had nothing to do with it, except my hands were there. Yes, I had the experience in life to know this wonderful person calling me in but I didn't know the next syllable.
My lips, my hands were being guided. Sort of like an Ouija board stuff ... but yeah, with really good results. I knew that there was a part of me that was going, this is really happening to me. This creative force is really visiting me. To have that proven to me ... it has happened several times. God is another song that, I've only played it one time my whole life and that's on the DVD. I had to learn it last year. I have to learn it. It's tricky to learn notes that come completely from source because I was the co-creator and I had notes on Gods about ... and looking at those paintings but I didn't write anything.
Ann: See this is why I really like talking tours, because I was just going to ask you about painters and visual art. And how important that is to you. That's another thing that I learned. And Parasol is a song on the new record that is very influenced by painters. How are you akin to a painter? What kinship do you feel with visual arts?
Tori: Well, I'm crap. I could never draw anything or make anything. Yet, it's funny, I'm not jealous. I'm just not of visual artist. I am, but that's not one of them because I just find it so glorious that somebody can make something like that. But I'm sitting there with my stick figure. Yet, I go to this form a lot because you see, I'm not trapped by it. Musically, I can get drawn into making judgments ... well they shouldn't have used that chord-
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: You know, like seeing, how do you put it? It's like, if there's any architects in the room ... when I hear a song, I hear and see all of the music being played out at the same time. If there's a line, I hear, you know, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, yeah, uh. I can see it on the staff and played out. Sometimes, I miss the experience because it becomes very, you know, music. Which can get in the way.
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: Where as with visual arts, I'm able to surrender because it's a different medium and so sometimes I think that's alright. I go to other musicians to get inspired like bass players or guitar players. Michael, for example. You know, I'll be listening to ... and that kind of thing. I stay away from piano players so that, number one, you don't steal.
Ann: Which is a human tendency.
Tori: There are 12 notes, yeah, it's tricky.
Ann: Speaking of going to a bass player to inspire your work. There are other voices in the book. Voices of Mark, your husband and the engineer of sound. Your band and others. I was just wondering, were you nervous about what they had to say about you?
Tori: Well, it's a weird one, when you go ... When I said to you, remember when we had that chat and you said, hey you know I've gotten other people to talk about you. You sort of warned me. We're going to be talking behind your back. Are you okay with this? And yet, you have to, when you work, and co-create with so many people ... I've told you I work in teams. It's this paradox. When you have a crew on the road and you have these musicians that although I'm nervous, you know, Tori Amos. Tori Amos is a made up of many, many different pictures. It's sort of like chocolate cake. Tori Amos. There's lots of things in it. And delicious...
Ann: That's a good point though. I mean I think there is an incredibly singular aspect to your work, a songwriter's work and then there's this moment where it becomes collaboration and it's also been interesting to watch how you open those doors. When you open those doors. When do you make the choice. When does the bad come, you know, to the studio? When do you talk, how much do you talk to them about? How do you guard what's singular about the work and then yet open yourself to others?
Tori: Oh, God, I need an anti-inflammatory. Okay. Now can you see why I have to say, Oh I needed my answers when I... back those translator people writing down ... why do I sound so stupid? I have to write my answers ...
Ann: Does she sound stupid?
Tori: I have to write my answers back to Ann, because, you see ...
Ann: Well, that's how we did the book.
Tori: That's how we did the book. Maybe because as a songwriter, you sing a song over and over and over. You sing the song, say, "Winter." You sing it hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It exists, she exists. Now, the change is forming though, every time I sing it because the picture's changed.
Ann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tori: It's not just a girl walking in the snow with her dad or her grandfather. It's now, a woman walking in the snow with her daughter. It's many different pictures.
Ann: For a while it became about Kevyn.
Ann: After he passed away. Something changed.
Tori: It can change, yes.
Ann: We were just talking about why backstage. Why vintage ... you treasure a house but every vintage ... every bottle, really-
Tori: Is different.
Ann: Is different. And that's the magic in a way.
Tori: Of all my performances, when you sing a song, it changes because of the mood in a town ... you know, there have been people who have come back and I know that someone in the audience has say, lost a child. They're there that night. You have to own over all this space with the song wants you to come. And you're aware of that happening to them. That can change my camera angle on the song that night. Maybe there's a compassion or in another sitting there's been an argument with somebody whose been a father figure. And because of that betrayal, then Winter takes on another tone.
That's where the songs are sort of these loose structures really for emotions. Which takes me back to when do you invite the band?. Well, to create this on tape, normally, well normally, Mark will tell you I write them way before the shoot. Number one, because I adore him so much and love being with him but usually I have to cram for an exam. And that's the same with an album. I usually don't finish it ... I work the best under pressure. Which drives everybody insane around me.
Ann: I understand it, like a journalist. That's how we work too.
Tori: Is it?
Ann: Yeah. Definitely. Deadlines make it happen, you know. There's something about the tension of knowing it needs to be done. It's exciting.
Tori: It is. And it's sexy. And, well it is.
Ann: Also, if you've got a very free flowing mind then it demands that discipline you were talking about earlier. You know.
Tori: It does. And I think it also forces you to, well it pushes me anyway to get to those, what we were talking about also backstage ... uncomfortable subject matters. It pushes me as a writer to dig like in Parasol. Serve up and back down for this. I was looking at this painting seeing the woman with a Parasol and I'm just, you know, a wall spy. I look back and look at her ... how it got turned there? You don't know. You know, I really don't.
cleaning up after a mess that was there the night before ... cups of tea. There it was. And I didn't turn it. I would go in and out practicing, playing. I began to feel this affinity with her. This Victorian woman. This woman that maybe didn't have the choices that you and I have. Being able to work. Bring home the bacon, all those things. I have found that this woman, this side of Tori if you will, that was being trapped and that the storm was outside and the betrayal was current.
A deep betrayal. I would look to this woman and realize that in order to not be erased in this relationship, I would have to step into the painting. If I could step in, I'm talking sonically though, if I could step in, then how could someone find you? They can't catch you. You go from these paintings one to another sonically and each song is a sonic painting. And it's really about shape shifting, which takes me back to my papa, my grandfather. It's all interconnected, these ideas. But this is where the song idea came from.
Ann: Well, you mentioned your papa and that was an amazing part of the book I think too. Where you talk about your ancestry and your family and the way that these very different legacies combined to form your identify and your position and vision. That's a bit challenging too because I know I did some autobiographical writing and it's very hard to represent others usually they don't like. It is a challenge and people are always changing. In a sense this is now an official record of your family history, it's out there, it's in the library of congress for them to find out about the Amos clan. Here it is. Was that a particular responsibility that you felt intensely as you were writing that part of the book?
Tori: It's funny you say this, looking back now, I realize, and my parents are here tonight. I went back to Ireland to finish the book. When I say finish I was halfway there. The deadline had come and gone, I was writing. Who understood that I wasn't trying to just fly and chase some... all day. The problem with the book was... Anyway ...
Ann: Well come to the writers world of authorship.
Tori: Those days are gone too. Anyway ...
Ann: You're in Ireland?
Tori: In Ireland and my mom and dad were there as I came to really diving into the ancestry chapter. I found that I had gone after it in a way that I should. With them being there as I was writing it, talk about feed to the fire. I knew that I could be able to show it to my parents before I showed it to the world. The curious thing is they were unbelievably supportive. It's not about we all have to agree. I think that they're at a place in life where they've said to me, that Natasha is going to write all kinds of things about all of us, and she will!
It will be out of my hands and Marks hands and all of our hands. Then her children, and yours will, they'll write all kinds of stuff about you. This is my, I had my pen in my hand and I tried desperately to do my research. Part of my father's family hails from Ireland and Scotland, his mother's side. I needed, it was strange, I was with kismet again. I was in County Cork at the old... . It's the first thing I ever really bought. I was here in this old house, trying to go back to my old roots of my ... . I really thought that the children house in Ireland was looking over me. Not with, that kind of thing but there was a sense that I had to really try and tell it as truthfully as I could but from my perspective. I certainly saw my grandmother as an adversary, which my dad doesn't see her as and that's okay that he didn't have that relationship but it has to be okay that I did have that sort of we are on opposite sides of the Mary Magdalene question.
Ann: That adversarial relationship actually was a great seed of your ... in fact?
Tori: Yeah, funny you mention that, again it just reminds me of ... Grandma in a way pushed me to really search and question what I believe in, where I see women in Christianity, which was very much the back story of the Beekeeper.
Ann: Exactly, I definitely want to talk about that, you worked right into my next question again. Talking about the position of women, I think my favorite chapter of the book in many ways is the one about you becoming a mother. It's incredibly moving and incredibly rich in so many ways. I was curious because there's been a lot of debate right now about motherhood and the burden of motherhood and how hard it is for women our age to be mother's and also work and be creative and have our own lives. Yet, you do a good job of that I must say. I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about how ... those different aspects of your life. I know you're incredibly dedicated and involved mother to Tash and yet you are also this incredibly hard working artist, how does that work inside yourself?
Tori: Number one there, there are only so many hours in the day and you have to realize that you can't do everything all the time. Making those choices is very sometimes difficult. You're useless if you're only 50% artist and you're useless if you're only 50% mother. Therefore, when I'm mom I try to be there completely. When I'm an artist I have to be holding that space completely. That means you have to have trust and structure in place where you feel that your child is growing and happy and safe. Right now the last place Tash would want to be is sitting here listening to this. She'd be like mom, this is so boring! She's out with her cousin, whatever doing her thing right now. What I'm saying to you is where does the guilt then come in? It does come in, knowing that when I'm out doing what I do, you're out doing what you do, we're away from the child that says but mommy I want you to come and play. Then you think about well look lets be honest if I were there all the time I don't think I'd be a very good mom.
Ann: In a way you wouldn't be there all the time.
Tori: I wouldn't be present, not here. That's why I think to really be a fulfilled mom on the creative force I must be true to that, I'm not a stay at home mom. I think some women are, my mom was and she was great at it. She made that choice, she could have had many different kinds of job offers but she chose to be a stay at home mom. Now a lot of women can't make that choice because of their situation. Even though they want to. I wouldn't want to because that is not who I am. I don't work very well...
Ann: You had mentioned a little bit earlier what's at the root of the song of the Beekeeper the kind of division you're confronting. I think the division that's asked of women today, of mother's especially but in fact of all women it is rooted in that initial division, the one that has to do with Mary Magdalene which I think maybe we should talk about and how that's manifested on your work and how you have returned to a subject that you've talked about in the past and yet on this new record it's really in a new way. The whole story of Mary Magdalene, the story of Christianity, do you want to take it from there?
Tori: You're doing so well. Reading the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, it's quite profound. Not because of all the woman says. There are many passages missing discovered in the 1886 and thereabouts. My mother and I read it together at the beach house. We held hands and she had tears streaming down her face and she just said, this makes so much sense to me. It reaches me in a way that goes into the heart. You're talking about the compassionate heart early on. Why I think it's so important to focus on this idea that she was a writer, a prophet and yet why aren't we shouting from the roof tops, we found the gospel of Mary Magdalene? Because, that's intriguing isn't it?
When we aren't allowed to preach, talk in church, a dictate made by the bishops in the early Christian church. Amazing that you think this would be front page news. It isn't and that's the thing that my mom and I were really curious about and the power that has been in place so that we don't realize that Jesus was a feminist whether you believe all about him or not. The idea that this woman was allowed to speak in the gospel of Mary Magdalene. It's attributed to her. She talks about her agony over the fact that Peter doesn't think that she should be the one that the teacher confides in. She's not welcomed by the boy's club, funny that hasn't changed so much.
Ann: If anything we're in another, it's interesting, you say women aren't allowed to preach, I think many American privileges that were founded by women... all these women prophets who of course were considered freaks or sideshow specimens or something. Today we're in a moment where the patriarchal forces are once again on the rise worldwide. Obviously no one artist is going to change the world of events but nevertheless do you see your music as an intervention in a sense?
Tori: Wow, you've got to admit that I'm... There's something to be said for sacred sexuality and there's something to be said for, if once is going to enter the Christian allegory, the Islamic allegory and the Judaic then needed to find frequency. Now for me as a song writer because I'm working, I had to find that key, bee keeping in North Cornwall is very much alive. It's part of the tradition and then of course it shows itself to be in the three big religions I just mentioned. However, it hasn't been assimilated. It's still autonomous, it's its own. That the worker bees go out and join with that organ through women being locked up in little tiny closets because they won't marry somebody. Women not being allowed to preach now with all kinds of ideas of morality. These worker bees have continued to share abundance with the environment and I really wanted to bring back the idea of the ancient feminine write alongside the big three that are involved in this war. The worker bees have been around over 44 million years. I thought it was a good backstage pass.
Ann: It's interesting too, you talk about sacred sexuality and thinking about flowers, the artwork for the new album was so beautiful too. I was telling you about that backstage. It's funny how we forget that songs are sexual and their beauty is right in front of us and yet somehow we overlook it so often. I think in a sense that's the way that this new album approaches sexuality. It's very sexual, very sexy but it's not that kind of in your face strip me down. I don't have to mention names either, it's a more subtle form than some. When you were creating this very sexual work that must have been a very internal process for you.
Tori: I looked at the Bible and the garden is something of course that is right there in the beginning. As I was walking through the fields in North Cornwell, again you and I talk about point of place. This is where the Beekeeper was written. I was looking out over the Atlantic toward America. I'm a guest in England, I have no illusions about my relationship with it. I adore it sometimes, there are things I love about it. My access is to the stories of this land, you cannot get away from as a bard the story that you know how to tell. At a certain point you have to know what that is.
I can't write songs from Australia or wherever I am in the world but I know about this land in a way that I can't explain. It goes deep through my mother's people and my father's people who came from the Revolutionary War. I felt being in North Cornwell the garden was mural. You cannot get away from it. You came to visit. You know the people there almost have these tattoos underneath their skin of, I think the myths that have had there. They have in a way, once you get out at Exeter station, Exeter St. Davis on the train and you enter into this world, you're not part of England anymore. The Cornish don't call themselves English or British, they're Cornish. They teach you that. Although I'm not part of it I felt welcomed. Therefore, I was working with the implements of this place and gardens were all around me. The garden in the Bible where again a woman was, well you know, we have been acknowledged as the one to exit, the reason for the exit.
Ann: Isn't there a way in which the reason for that exit is also the awareness of our own physicality do you know what I mean? The woman in our culture is always the one, the body, the being with the body. Men can be all brains, just brains, at least that's how they can be perceived in culture. We talked about the great beauty of the music on the Beekeeper and I think that the vivid quality of the writing that we did. There's an embodiment in it, a fleshiness to your work.
Tori: I saw the gardens as a woman's body. When I say that I mean the idea that the feminine that men are as welcome to enter as women. This is not about the girls club. This is about, I chose six because it was like the hexagon shape in a honeycomb and also the six days it took to create the world, so the Bible says. I was working with these parables and it seemed to me that I needed a woman character, not to God but to God's mother Sofia and say clearly things aren't working out so well. I've got ideas and she basically says to Tori and you can call her many names, our female character. She says, dear one you must eat of the forbidden fruit, only then will you really look and what you do will mean relationships, what they're really about. Once you become conscious then maybe you can become useful.
Ann: There's an intensity to that moment. It sounds like that moment is a very painful moment and yet a very beautiful one. It's violent in a way.
Ann: The music isn't, it's so lush it overtakes you.
Tori: It's important that we wanted the songs and I, we wanted to not push people away but to bring them in. The Christian writing, of men and women we said, ah, very good ideas. There are other ways to open, I felt that the garden had to be open to everyone, the Christian right as well. There's also another idea that we were talking about, to hold the mother revolution and beauty must be there together.
Ann: You're going to be taking this new music on the road and you're actually going to be touring solo at first right? Not with the band.
Tori: Not with the band.
Ann: What's that going to be like to be hearing this new music to audiences? What are you anticipating especially in the environment you were talking about with the rise of the Christian writer?
Tori: Those are really good question. I'm going to miss them terribly because when you interact with other musicians that's a conversation in itself, but I felt that the relationship between the organ and the handle door to the piano. The organ became a male force on the record and again, very much about this record is this joining of male and female as forces that are their own and yet come together. Over the last many, many months these two instruments have been speaking with each other and I've been watching them. I wanted to share where the songs came from. I think it's important. You have the music as we envisioned it in its completeness. Once you take away the production and you just show the simplicity of the song I think that people begin to see in a different way. I think that's essential to begin this work, this story.
Ann: I have a hard time sharing Tori when we're having a conversation with her because I love to talk to her so much. I know some of you asked questions and we've been talking for a little bit over an hour. I'm going to shift to some questions from the audience, is that cool with you?
Ann: We were hoping that when you hear the question, we'd like to see the person who asked it even though you submitted these.
Tori: You don't need to move.
Ann: Just stand up.
Ann: Frontal connection. Let's start with this one, ah we just did that one, nevermind. Thank you for Elaine, who just asked a question we just answered. Oh we talked about the sacred prostitute in Mary Magdalene. Okay Tori, I love you says Corby, what makes a good artist manager? That's something we haven't touched on at all in this conversation. It's in the book and quite important.
Tori: Very important. I work with -
Ann: Corby, are you there? Hi, Corby!
Tori: I work with... now it's very much a triangle, a triad that we see each other's strengths and there are things that I know that they can do and you hand the baton over to them. I made a choice, years and years ago when John Witherspoon was my tour manager to become educated in how the music business works. I wanted to know about the crew and all those buses, all those trucks and what happens. Why do some musicians you never hear from again after they sold all those records? All those funny things. Maybe something that I think it wasn't thought of as cool for musicians to know how the music industry works. I'm not just talking about the big bad record company.
I don't see it that way. You have great people there, you also have people that are greedy but you have greedy consumers too. It's something that I just wanted to know more about. Now I work with John and Chessy and it's really a deep relationship and it's based on... they need to feel valued and I feel really valued by them. It's tricky this management thing, when you get somebody that you might be sleeping with as your manager I think some people can do.
Ann: We call that a husband-ager.
Tori: I think that it's one thing that husband I are creative and we can sit there and battle it out in the studio but it's another thing to have this kind of relationship. It's a very tough gig. It's important to find the right people you want to work with. I think you also have to be clear on what your financial deal is. I talk about some of this in chapter eight on the book.
Ann: On a totally different topic this is a question that you and I have talked about a little but maybe you could address is specifically. This is from Chris. I don't know how to pronounce your name, Chris? Hi, Chris! Chris wants to know, you're talking about your spirituality and how you learned a lot of it from your papa. Specifically what are you passing on to Tash of traditions maybe you learned from your Papa? What are you passing on?
Tori: Well, unfortunately I think I'm passing on.... I couldn't believe it, I said what are you doing? She says I don't think I like these. Well, why are you wearing them? She has her own sense of style and her latest thing is I'm going to dress myself and you never know what she's going to come out in. I don't know how I got off on that.
Ann: She's very spiritual.
Tori: Tash is constantly saying things that challenge us. The latest one has been, I don't like you going to... and I say, I don't like going away either. She goes, "I don't like Tori is taking you away, I want my mummy back." It's difficult because...
Ann: On a totally different topic this is a question about Scarlet's Walk reaching back into the recent past, I don't know who asked this question. When Scarlet's Walk was released you discussed the figure of Scarlet as if she were a real woman and emphasized her journey through America and it even says she has four lovers. Later on, Scarlet seems more of a metaphor. I think that means later on in the record, a way to lead us on the journey through the pain and terror American... how do you conceive of Scarlet now?
Tori: She's right there, right there, right here. She's the blood that flows in all of us, reminding us about the legacy we will leave behind to the next generation. If we go like this for the next ten years we have to think about what we're leaving the little ones. When I became a mom, and I know you've become a mom too. You might have thought more about this because you're much more social than I. Until I became a mom I was much more inward thinking about just personal relationships, not the personal, the macro causes and the micro causes. Now it's a relationship with your beliefs as well as who you've been talking with about your beliefs and lying in their arms. I couldn't sleep with somebody if I didn't respect their beliefs, not now.
Ann: It's true, it's funny being a mom you have to explain yourself in such a daily way. Who knows, my daughter is all of 14 months old so all she says is bui and da, which is birdy and dog but I know she will one day ask those questions. I remember you telling me when I was in Cornwall. I think this was mentioned in the book too about Natasha wanting learn about God and wanting to pray at meals. You had a very ingenious way...
Tori: What did I do?
Ann: You prayed to the Great Mother, you didn't just pray to the God that she was learning in Sunday School or from her group of friends, you made prayer and exploration of religion in a way. I thought that was really very smart, mom thing.
Tori: You have to figure that the guy that your dad doesn't want you to go out with becomes so much more attractive because of that. It's true. I think that she has to find her own path and what she believes in. If you don't feel safe enough to test these things at home then you're not creating a safe home for somebody. I really do believe in freedom of beliefs as long as you're not trying to tell me what to believe so why should I tell her. You can guide sometimes and say no, I don't think you should wear your knickers on your head today while you pray.
Ann: You were talking about Scarlet being in all of us, you and you. People always talk about the way that women relate to, say Rob Barret from Iowa. As you can see from Rob Barret from Iowa and other men in this room, you have a lot of male fans as well. Why do you think so many guys relate to your music? Besides the fact that you're one hot mama?
Tori: I have a great relationship with the guys on the crew and on my team. I have great guys in my life.
Ann: It's true.
Tori: Straight, gay, a bit of both, whatever it is. My dad and I, even though we will see things differently, we have a really great relationship. We had to go through our time but at a certain point in your life I think that you're either able to communicate with people or you're always blowing... . When I'm working with the guys it might be a different kind of speaking and I think being a musician in the contemporary world there are a lot more men that sleep with their access than women. I think that's just true, it's not an opinion. Therefore, I've worked with a lot of men. Because of that I can have relationships with the men without having to be, are you a friend, are you a lover? So many great guy friends were a bit, there isn't a flirtation, it's not about that. It's not confusing, it doesn't have to be. When you're a musicians it's not gender specific.
Ann: That allows in the writing maybe for a connection with men, or with the male listener, which isn't just selling your sexuality. In your personal life you have a lot of different kinds of connections with men in the songs. The subject of compassion, someone wants to know, talking about compassion on the new album and how on original sexuality the woman character calls out, you can pronounce this better than I can.
Ann: Telling him he's not all darkness, she is compassionate, challenging him not to isolate. Is there a growth in compassion in these songs? Compassion for the enemy?
Tori: I think that the word strength is really important. When I started to immerse myself in Sofia's essence I say that because the word perspective, that's me, supposing that I know perspective, I have to be careful with that. As I would try and again contain this music and hunt it, really hunt, as you do a research reading the Gnostic gospels, anything on God's mother Sofia that I could. I was really struck by the idea that she as a mother could say you may think you're the only creative force that there is, how alone you must feel. No wonder there's so much anger and need to posses because you don't feel abundant and the ache in her is so deep, it's the ache of a mother who has her lost her son. Not by death but by power and rejection of the love of the mother. Her love hasn't gone and once I felt that I just curled up on the piano, I just wept until I could breathe again and continue songs again.
Ann: That's true compassion. Last question. This is addressed to both of us from.... From your seasoned perspective, we're seasoned. What is the single most important thing for a woman in her 20s to remember starting out in today's musical business climate as a musician, song writer, performer. I want to just add to that, what about anyone starting out today? If you were to offer a word in this culture at this moment?
Tori: Let's talk from your perspective for a minute, you're a writer, you're a journalist. I think this is important, did you graduate from college?
Tori: Tell people for a moment.
Ann: Yes, I graduated from college, I graduated from graduate school but I never studied journalism.
Tori: What was your study?
Ann: English, American Literature.
Ann: I always wrote, from the beginning, I've been writing, actually publishing stuff since I was about 16 or 17, just always wrote. I guess that's the thing, do it. To quote Nike who I hate, just do it, write, create, it can be hard, you may not get paid for a long time. I think you go through your struggling period. If you stick at it there is a chance that it will never happen for you but hopefully do it out of love and pleasure. There's that idea of the mind at play. What is play? Play is total engagement. Pleasure is not just getting a really great pedicure, I mean that's nice but it's also total engagement, connection.
What you talk about as a song writer. I think that's something any creative person can relate to, whether they are a writer, an architect, a doctor, a surgeon. I'm sure in that moment there's that total engagement, the loss of the ego in the work. That's what I love about writing and that's what keeps me going, is that moment completely alone and moment alone. All the other moments are nice, it's totally fun to be ... it's fun to be able to be on this stage but if you don't like the moment when you're alone with yourself it's just not going to happen for you. That's what I would say I think.
Tori: It was a struggle to be alone with myself.
Ann: It can be a terrible struggle to be alone with yourself just as a person. You said that yourself earlier in our conversation. I think people don't want to shut up you said. That is a really hard thing. That's what challenges me about the younger generation. The total immersion in media all the time from your game boy, to your iPod to your blog. You're always either taking information in or putting information out, in kind of a constant loop.
Tori: Like sewage system.
Ann: In a way.
Tori: It's useful.
Ann: It is useful, it's true but when is there time to think, what happens to contemplation? What happens to the use of music as a contemplative gift? That kind of passion that when I first heard your music to take an example. It was not about listening to it on my iPod with other tracks, it was about immersion in the work and getting to know it. I think that's still how people relate to their favorite artists but there's so much out there I find it daunting.
Tori: This is a bit of a battle. I was talking to Donny Ienner today who is some big cheese at Sony, who is very smart and I like him a lot. We were talking about how sadly enough musicians are not necessarily heard a lot on the radio. You could say well isn't it the record company's fault? No, it's not any one person's fault, what we need to think about for one minute is I can't just go and operate on people. They're not going to let me in there, and they shouldn't! You can look great in whoever Dolce, whatever this and that, you can sing on your microphone and they'll fix you in pro tools and you can sell millions of records and lip sync and all is well. That is the definition now of music.
There have always been entertainers, we always know that but the musician is something that you as a musician must value in yourself and you have to watch the little green monster when you're seeing people that are allowed into that operating room going [sound effects]. You're this healer that really wants to make this person better but aren't allowed in there. This is intriguing to me. We've talked about those who run the airways. If you think about musicians, or visual artists that are say the voice of the unconscious of the masses, it's the thing that prods and pokes you. Stephen Wolf, I love that story, I love the idea that the thoughts that haunt. If you have your artists and musicians and writers with a voice then you have the masses doing what? Asking questions! That's not what those who they really want, they want acceptance of what's being told. Now, this is not about conspiracy. It's too obvious for a conspiracy. What we have to realize though is that if you become demoralized as a creative force and we become demoralized then we really have become victims. The tragic –
Ann: Yeah, what? Well, I believe you're listening -- Tony Robbins -- I believe your listening is an act of creation. I believe that fan-ship can be an act of creation. Oh, and maybe that will be our little, I hate to say it, maybe our last story. I want you to share the story you told me about the gentleman who illustrated our book. Your fan, and I'm his fan, and you're his fan.
Tori: I'm his fan.
Ann: Mel Odom.
Tori: So, this is how ... I think when you're creating in your life, it's not about a job you have, it's about a being-ness. Which takes me to Mark's, my husband's, closet. Now, it's very neat. Everything around has been as orderly.
Ann: He only does have one pair of shorts, right?
Tori: But the thing is, I'm not orderly in my world, except the songs kind of are. But Super Debs decided to clean Mark's closet. It doesn't need cleaned.
Ann: Super Debs is your Mary Poppins of your life.
Tori: Yeah, we have a couple. She's one of them. And so why and how this happened the week that we were talking about art for the cover just shows you back to ... If you're just kind of looking and open, then creativity is happening. Not all the time, and it might seem part of the mundane, like husband's closet that doesn't need to be cleaned. Now why Deb is doing this, I have no idea, she's never done it before, I've known her for five years. But she is doing it, and I walk down the steps into our bedroom and there is this doll, glamorous doll. And why it was in Mark's closet, that's something I won't ask him about. But there it was. And I got a... in my head and realized it was beautiful, it wasn't an ordinary doll. And yet, that wasn't what captured my eye. It was this kind of card, this illustrated card, that I looked at. And I saw the art. And I said, "This is it, I have to find the artist who drew this, whoever it is." Well, we went on a website, I can't get on a computer.
So, people were helping me get on and finding this person. And lo and behold, the guy that made the doll had drawn this beautiful masterpiece. And then I turned it over and I read the note, and it said, "One of my dearest friends, Kevyn Aucoin, introduced me to your music, and I miss him as you must, and I love him. And I wanted to send you this doll." And Kevyn, who was so much about teaching about music, art, and how it could affect how we hear, brought Mel Odom through Mark's closet to the cover of our book.
Ann: Isn't that a beautiful story. ... says, I was born a feminist. Stay feminist.
[transcript by Michael Morrison]
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